buckthorn thorn

Buckthorn gets its name from the spiny "thorn" that sticks out between the two buds at the tips of the branches, which resemble a buck's hoof.

Control Techniques for Buckthorn

Why Should I Remove It?

Buckthorn is a destructive species that has the ability to displace and even wipe out native plant communities along with the songbirds, butterflies, and other animals that depend on them. Soil is degraded and frogs and other amphibians suffer birth defects in dense buckthorn growths.  Buckthorn seeds are spread widely by some birds and will grow aggressively into weedy thickets in a variety of conditions. 

Late fall and winter are great times for eradicating the invasive non-native buckthorn!

Check your identification

Many desirable native shrubs can be confused with buckthorn including American plum, black chokeberry, hawthorn and nannyberry. The easiest time of year for identification is late autumn, when native shrubs have lost their leaves but buckthorn remains full of green leaves. 

For a great resource check out The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' A Field Guide to Terrestrial Invasive Plants

Assess the enemy and make a plan

Take a moment to size up your population—where is its heart and in which direction is it spreading? It’s usually helpful to work from the least infested area toward the most-infested area, but if you’re protecting a high-quality area, work from there outward. Think of how you’ll dispose of cuttings—burning, chipping, etc.

If time is short and the situation allows, it might be best to start by targeting the big females (the ones full of berries). To keep big jobs from overwhelming you, simply draw an imaginary “line in the sand,” and pledge to remove any buckthorn that crosses the line. With large populations and privacy concerns, it sometimes works well to think about where you could locate new replacement plantings (think about sight lines and views when you sit on your back deck, for instance) and prepare those areas first. Are there precious plants or moist soils that could be damaged by trampling? If so, wait until winter when plants are dormant and soils are frozen.

With large populations and privacy concerns, it sometimes works well to think about where you could locate new replacement plantings (think about sight lines and views when you sit on your back deck, for instance) and prepare those areas first. Are there precious plants or moist soils that could be damaged by trampling? If so, wait until winter when plants are dormant and soils are frozen.

Are there precious plants or moist soils that could be damaged by trampling? If so, wait until winter when plants are dormant and soils are frozen.

Consider goats, neighbors, and contractors

CommonBuckthornB

Photo of Common Buckthorn by Elizabeth J. Czarapata, author of "Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest"

For really big jobs, explore the successes of hired goats (true!) and contractors (see our website). Teaming up with neighbors prior to the Sunday game has advantages as well.

Hand-pull small plants when soil is damp

An advantage of hand-pulling is that it removes the roots, which reduces resprouting. Use a Pullerbear, Extractigator or similar tool for stems up to 2 inches.

Cut larger stems and trunks with a loppers, hand saw, or -when necessary- a chainsaw

Protect your body with goggles, thick gloves, sturdy boots, etc. Be alert for others as you work.

Herbicide immediately and carefully after cutting

Choose the right herbicide for the setting and time of year, and follow all label instructions. Apply carefully to the stump with a disposable paint brush. With large infestations, adding a dye to the herbicide will help you keep track of which stems were treated. Don’t let the herbicide touch desirable plants. We are not endorsing the following products, but sharing examples you might find helpful.

  • In areas of standing water, use aquatic-approved formulations, such as Aquamaster.
  • In upland areas, when temperatures are above freezing, herbicides that contain glyphosate may be used, such as Roundup.
  • In winter, switch to an herbicide that contains triclopyr, such as Garlon.
  • Though not readily available, Vanquish is increasing in popularity as a year-round choice.

Be prepared for follow-up

With well-established populations, you will probably need to treat new growth for a year or more. If the area is small, woodchips on top of layers of cardboard or newspaper might do the trick. Seeding the newly cleared area with native sedges, grasses and wildflowers can help to keep the buckthorn at bay. New shrubs such as blackhaw viburnum or hazelnut can add privacy as well as autumn color and much-needed songbird habitat.

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